W. Bingham Hunter digs a bit deeper than my previous post about why we don’t know much about prayer in today’s world. In his book The God Who Hears, he looks beyond the ideas that some Christians have no relational connection with God, some have no expressive ability, others use prayer as a Santa wish list and some quit praying due to the idea that God has allowed tragedy in their lives.
Those reasons are of course valid but maybe there are more complex reasons.
Here is what Hunter says.
First, prayer never generated much controversy in the early church. Early church leaders spent a lot of time fending off false teachers who questioned the divinity of Jesus or early teachings which tried to define the true nature of the Holy Spirit. There were church councils convened to produce orthodox positions for those major ideas, but there were no church councils devoted to prayer. What is the upshot of this? No one really tried to clarify standards for personal spirituality. In simple terms, no one developed guidelines for how to pray or how not to pray. Hunter says “today, many systematic theology texts omit prayer, and those which include it can’t even agree on what the practice of prayer is: a means of grace? an implication for the atonement? a work of the Spirit? Pastors don’t attempt to teach congregations how to pray which leaves Christians scant knowledge about how to pray.
Secondly, in today’s world, many of us are so obsessed with science and technology that spiritual matters get less attention. A specific example is the current attention we give to the advancement of artificial intelligence. One has to look no further than the auto industry to see major advances. There are many cars on the road today that are primarily controlled by humans but there are more and more AI features on vehicles that take over automobile operation. Today’s cars correct you when you drift out of your lane, start to back into something you are not aware of or get too close to something that is in front of you. This form of artificial intelligence is only one example but in a world that is more and more scientifically sophisticated, why call on God for answers? Maybe we can figure things out on our own?
Thirdly, we are hampered by our lack of reading God’s word. Yes folks, that dusty Bible that never gets picked up hampers prayer. We are told to use the Lord’s promises as foundations for our prayer. We are encouraged to claim things that are in the Bible. But how can the average man do this if he has never read those promises and has no idea what to claim? This leads to all types of distortion about prayer, “The name of Jesus is invoked over things He wouldn’t recognize” [Bingham, 11].
Finally, the American focus on economics has a negative effect on prayer. If you are ever up in the wee hours of the morning, you will see television evangelists who tout the practicality of investing a “seed” in support of your prayer life. What does this mean? In practical terms, they are asking for money so they can pray for you. If you give them fifty dollars, their prayer will result in you getting a major harvest in your life. If you need a new home, it will happen. If you need a new job, you will get it. All you need to do is invest in the prayer ministry. It all boils down to getting what you want and we all know that many in our society today have a bad case of “the wants.
Bingham Hunter is not willing to shy away from the many frustrations Christians have about prayer. People feel heartache about not being able to pray. People are upset that prayers go unanswered. People are unable to take prayer seriously for numerous reasons.
“I am convinced that a huge, but largely secret group of Christians genuinely longs to know both God and themselves better and they are weary of having to sing ‘It is well with my soul’ with their fingers crossed” [Bingham, 12].
I realize how fortunate I am. Due to my circumstances, I feel I know God and have a growing relationship with Him. I am a person who has few problems with words. Thoughts come easily to me and I enjoy the exchange of ideas. Even with my background in speech communication, I have always had a natural curiosity about public prayer. When I have heard prayers, I have always attended to them as a speech event and I have wondered what makes a good public prayer effective. Over the years I have copied the phrases that seem to work and have tried to have a respectful attitude needed in public prayer expression.
It is not that way with everyone. Many people struggle with prayer. What will follow in future posts is a discussion of a book that seeks to be honest about prayer difficulties.
My prayer for my posts is as follows:
As I seek to comment on prayer, I call upon the Holy Spirit to help me find words that will help someone learn about prayer using the book God Hears.
And I thank you God, my Father…